BY TORI NICOLLI, MS, DTR
With the new year comes new fads, and 2016 is no different. We’re already in March, and it’s become clear that there are certain topics and trends in the field of nutrition that seem to be getting more and more attention as the days go by. This week we discuss another notable 2016 nutrition trend: probiotics!
When you hear the word ‘probiotic,’ you probably think of yogurt, right? Or maybe you’re more familiar with fermented foods like kefir, tempeh, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Though there’s plenty of research out there on probiotics, there’s still a lot to learn--especially regarding health; however, some strains of these microorganisms may help to alleviate certain bodily issues, which is why many consumers are turning toward ‘probiotic interventions.’
So what are probiotics, exactly? These are the ‘good bacteria’ and yeasts that are beneficial to your health when consumed in the right amount. They are nonpathogenic, meaning they’re incapable of causing disease. In particular, they keep your gut healthy. If you take a round of antibiotics, for example, probiotics can help replace the ‘good’ bacteria you’ve lost.
While there’s still a need for more research and clinical trials, preliminary evidence reveals that some probiotics are useful in preventing diarrhea caused by infections or antibiotics. But the benefits don’t stop there. They can help you digest your food and even enhance your immune system. Studies even suggest that there’s a possibility of probiotics reducing a person’s susceptibility to obesity. Perhaps the most interesting finding, though, is the gut/brain connection. Recent research suggests that there’s the possibility of treating the symptoms of depression with probiotics. (1, 2, 3)
With all the information floating around the internet, it might be confusing to know which strains are which, and why they’re important. A few examples of probiotic strains include:
Lactobacillus: A type of bacteria that lives in our digestive, urinary, and genital systems. It’s used for treating diarrhea; people have also used it for addressing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, among many other health concerns. L. Acidophilus is a common lactobacilli found in dietary supplements and yogurt.
Bifidobacteria: This bacterial group normally lives in the intestines. It’s used for many conditions affecting the intestines, including preventing diarrhea and treating ulcerative colitis. These strains of bacteria are even used to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. You can find Bifidobacteria in fermented foods like yogurt and cheese.
Saccharomyces boulardii: S. boulardii is a yeast probiotic used for treating and preventing diarrhea, IBS, inflammatory bowel syndrome, etc. You might recognize it by another name: Brewer's Yeast.
We predict that in 2016, variety really will be the spice of life when it comes to probiotics. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing more probiotic-fortified foods on shelves. Keep an eye out for juices, water, coffee, salsa, and even cereals.